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Issue 10. The Visualization of the Subaltern in World Music. On Musical Contestation Strategies (Part 1)

Heeding the Creole Voice (in the Seychelles Islands): Alternatives to race and nation as identifiers of cultural value

Author: Michael L. Naylor
Published: March 2005

Abstract (E): When centuries of labeling or categorizing of cultures and their expressions (music inclusive) by designations of racial or national origin fail to describe the true nature or benefit of the cultures, it becomes essential to look into alternative paradigms and describers to re-define human perception.
"Heeding the Creole Voice . . ." is an attempt to decode both the origins of some of our greater barriers to flexible and multi-cultural perception, while suggesting a variety of alternatives in methodology which are gleaned from numerous visits with musicians and culture-bearers from the Seychelles islands.
The article is also centered on the use of the voices of the cultures and upon suggesting some alternative mindsets which might assist in liberating Western academicians in their search for accuracy and balance in culture studies.

Abstract (F): Des siècles d'étiquetage et de catégorisation n'ont pas suffi, en raison justement des origines raciales ou nationales des concepts prônés, pour décrire correctement la vraie nature et les vrais enjeux des cultures. Il convient donc d'opter pour une tout autre démarche afin de mieux redéfinir la perception humaine. Cet article tente de décoder les origines de certains obstacles à une perception vraiment multiculturelle, tout en suggérant plusieurs alternatives méthodologiques glanées lors de nombreuses discussions avec des musiciens et des personnes des Seychelles. Il s'intéresse aussi au rôle que joue la voix dans la culture et esquisse quelques perspectives capables d'aider les chercheurs occidentaux dans leur quête de précision et d'équilibre dans l'étude de la culture.

keywords: Seychelles, multiculturalism, orality, perception

 

Prologue

"All too commonly, we find our men of affairs facing the revolutionary situation with a philosophy that is outmoded ... (they) tend to lay their strategems in terms of the conflict that is over, and not the one ahead. We have left behind a multi-cultural world where only a small segment of the people inhabiting it really counted; we are living in the same multi-cultural world, but one in which people with the most diverse modes of thought and behavior are in continuous interaction."

"That the problems raised by these multi-cultural realities have dimensions of an order of complexity far beyond our contemporary experience should but encourage us to marshal all our scientific skills to their solution. The answer, when it comes, must be realistic and flexible. Above all, it must involve an orientation in thought that, by giving full weight to the cross-cultural factor, will grant to all peoples their right of choice to identify their future with the continuities of their ancestral heritage." (Herskovits, 1972: 74)

 

For reasons that relate more to the academic rituals in completing a Ph.D. program and the tradition of cultural arrogance that presupposes merit based upon the predominance of the author's interpretation over the reporting of the culture-bearer's voice, the research upon which this paper is based, was originally constructed in the first person, an American musician/student visitor to the Seychelles Islands (Indian Ocean island group). Thankfully, a progressive de-emphasis in the authoritarian and empirical perspective of the Western academic ritual in favor of the "voices of culture" (insider voice) has greatly facilitated the emphasis of cultural perspectives from that of the curious visitor increasingly to the voices of those whom we study, or better yet --- from whom we seek enlightenment .

Although one can argue that the phenomenon of the Western academician seeking "truth" and balance in perspective has been in place longer, there has always been a trace of patronization and even larger elements of cultural-centrism manifest in the entrenched indoctrination in discussing cultural phenomenon by perspectives of identity. Much of this tendency is linked to the five-hundred year tradition of the Western university culture in discussing cultural manifestations by racial and national/ethnicity identifiers and origins.

As humility finds greater emphasis as a reflection of wisdom, and multiple truths and circular discourse between culture-bearers of diverse backgrounds begins to find its way through the maze of established traditions in conclusion-seeking, we, as a community of Western scholars, will find greater freedom to explore processes not manifest through argumentation or the proving of "a" point, but rather on the multiplicity of truths and reformation of the generally inflexible academic exercise itself. As to ethnographic discussions, the preponderance of a great many formulas has been formatted upon rigid adherence to the myths of identification of ethnicity by race and nation. But this mindset no longer has power against the more relevant dynamics of multi-cultural exchange, hybridization, and what I will term "creolization" (from the linguistic studies of "creative" fusion and perpetual re-creation of culture over time). Both the objects and methodologies we use to discuss, must obviously now evolve to meet the phenomenon we seek to understand.

To attempt clarity in a field of newly budding perceptions myself, the discourse that follows is much less a pursuit of point, an exercise in asserting my own brilliance or prowess in the six-hundred year dogma of personal assertion, or an attempt to claim ownership [certainly the motivator of much of what we now seek to "undo" and disclaim], but rather an attempt at vivifying the potential latent in seeking the wisdom of cultures that do not as pervasively buy into the myths of racial and national identity as cornerstones of critical analysis or discourse. To accomplish this, I will (attempt to) assert the voice of the Seychellois perceptions of creolization and perceptions of identity over my own.

In deference to the fore-mentioned humility and the de-programming of ownership from the culture of Western academia, I will not quote the multitude of Western scholars to whose work I am indeed grateful and by which, I have been influenced, but will seek instead to claim authority from the voices of the mothers, musicians, and muses of Seychellois culture and lore that truly inspired anything of worth that may emerge from this work. My wife, the true voice of the Seychelles culture and my partner in all areas of publication will negotiate strategies with me, contest imbalances, and ultimately determine to a large degree, what you will read. And finally, music (as much as I love it and have studied, composed, and performed it over the past four decades) will never be the focus of my discussion, but rather a window through which alternatives in perception of race and cultural values, some which may challenge a few of the channels and methodologies customary in European and American scholarship, may be viewed.

 

 

Creolization - "the creativity in culture"

"The search for origins, is an act of speculation, an attempt to weave a fiction of origins and subgeneration. It is to render the implicit as explicit, and at times to imagine the whole from the part."

(Henry Louis Gates, Jr. 1988: xxiv)

I began my research intending to create a survey of the music and musical-dance genres of the Seychelles Islands [1] a group of ninety-two islands located in the Indian Ocean, North of Mauritius and East of Kenya. Since the initial research, in which musical material was gathered, studied, and then discussed through a variety of essays and papers, the study has taken a series of turns. What began as a project (spread over time) of the musical genres as separate cultural expressions reflecting the cultural "origins" of the population of Seychelles (East African [Mozambique, Tanzania], already mixed cultures [Mauritius, Madagascar], and European [French and English]), became a discussion of cultural and ethnic processes of the Islands, viewed through the Seychelles musical genres and interviews with the people of Seychelles. The process in altering my analysis of musical genres from the relationship to European or African origins towards that of trying to capture the voice of the Seychellois in regard to their perceptions of their own culture --- was slow, tedious and directly proportionate to my own maturation in deprogramming the following: 1) that the strength of my research would be directly proportionate to its scientific, empirical, and statistical support as well as the degree to which my findings are stated relative to the conventions of Western academia; 2) that identification of music (and similarly all cultural expressions) by racial and national identifiers or by seeking to identify and quantify the distance of expressions found to the "origins" of the contributing expressions would be the means by which "science" would emerge from some otherwise fluid and perpetually changing cultural dynamics; and 3) that my own personal "ownership" of the ideas and discoveries I espoused would be critical to my advancement in the academic community - therefore, humility and the exaltation of the culture-bearer to the rank of author, and myself to that of cultural reporter (a relationship I now value) would require postponement.

To be sure, discussions of hybridization, cultural fusing and mixing, synchretization, or any of the multitude of variations of terminology which we might use to expel the tendency to focus upon origins, identify uniqueness, or separate the "older" traditions from the newer, are essential perimeters from which to begin discussion. Multi-cultural exchanges can only be seen accurately against the backdrop of a more fluid, multi-faceted and interdisciplinary vision of what we seek to understand. The process itself, is valuable in inciting movement from the dogmatic adherence to labeling by the constructs of Western perception to alternative visions which mirror human reality --- summarized: all cultures are now and have always been multi-cultural fusions of incalculable exchanges with other cultures since before the advent of recorded history.

Therefore, it's not if we are multicultural, but rather in what manner we are multicultural and how the fusions and multiple variations of ethnicity manifest themselves or can help us to become comfortable and fully exploit the ever emerging reality of our interconnectivity that is, (or perhaps should be) the means by which we validate our scholarship. By creating flexible models of analysis and compatibly flexible terminology we are better able represent the dynamics and fluidity of the human and cultural realities we seek to explain.

Not to belittle myself or my own work, but to contribute to the humility I seek both to obtain and model, it took me no less than three trips to the Seychelles, hundreds of recordings and interviews, and numerous thesis' and papers, before my frustrations in attempting to conform Seychellois expressions of cultural values and perceptions to my inclinations and indoctrinations were finally given over to the inclinations of the Seychellois themselves. I had spent the majority of my research focusing my attention upon the "origins" of contribution to the modern Seychellois music, the capturing of immobile or fixed "culture-graphs" of Seychellois evolution, and discussing these earlier traditions of kreolité (the state of being creole [from latin crear ]) as the focus of analysis. Only slowly, did the hypocrisy of my efforts give way to a slowly emerging intuitive inclination and the reality of the process of creolization . . . cultural creativity and fusion, as manifest in the music and minds of the Seychellois and the perpetual change in "tradition." [2]

To my defense, I would need to unveil and at times battle the influence of our collective Western ancestry including both colonization and more insidiously veiled Euro-American cultural colonization (the influence of Western values and perception [i.e.materialism] through education and media). Complicated by the extensive emphasis of nationalism and the stratification of "worlds" (first, third), the perpetuation of this phenomenon in the American perception of racial identity (oblivious to the fact that cultural fusions and the reality of creolization is hardly thwarted by political, economical, or ideological divisions of culture groups or racial stratification) and multiplied by the fact that Western capitalism, politics, and education have firmly entrenched these values and broadcast them relentlessly vis-à-vis an insatiable adoration for technology and media, the search for validity and accuracy in our 21 st century multi-culturscape, is no walk in the park.

Even from the perspective of evaluating musical genre, as an American musician with the belief that Western classical music was, well . . . Western (despite the origins of all of its scales in northern Africa and the Arab/Jewish world, its instruments - a multi-cultural fusion of numerous cultures, its storytelling, opera, and religious doctrines equally multi-cultural), and that Blues, Jazz, and Gospel music in America was clearly African-American (therefore African, despite a passing acknowledgement of Western instruments and song forms finding there way into African culture), [3] I was, at first, devoid of capacity to contend with the possibility that there were in fact cultures not as extensively influenced by stratification by racial and national identifiers as was I.

 

 

Seychelles-style creolization

(building a case for re-identification)

 

Viewed against the context of their short 200 plus year history, the evolution of Seychelles culture is as strong an example of active and continuous intra and inter cultural exchange as may exist anywhere. Bereft of indigenous culture-groups, then colonized first by the French, then the British, the Seychelles had neither the abundance of land or resources to make it a viable candidate for either slavery or for extensive and continual contact with the "empires." Therefore, despite an initial attempt to create a cotton industry - slavery disintegrated within two decades, captured slave ships dumped thousands of Africans from a variety of both Eastern and Western African cultures onto the islands, spice traders, merchants, and sailors from Arabic lands, India, Singapore, and all points north and east filtered into the island culture. In time, beyond an occasional visit by the British to protect the strategic location of the islands to the empire, and a very mild influx of settlers from Europe, the creolization process -- without much of the baggage of economic, political or racial hierarchy, could begin in earnest. [4]

The result: the Seychellois language and culture is termed creole , and as such reflects the complexity of cultural change one would expect to find in similar cultural fusions among other creole cultures. Since diversity is a condition that one applies to all multi-cultural non-homogeneous societies, viewing in what manner the Seychellois perceive themselves to be creole and equally how these conscious affinities for identification manifest themselves in the strategies of cultural expression (in this case through music) across the continuum of time and generations became the focal point of my work.

What do we hope to discover? Beyond the liberation of identification of others and ourselves strictly by nationality or racial destinations, perhaps a means by which we can also learn to change the lens' we use to analyze an expression or view and event isolated from the continuum of time. At one point it is the focus of discussion may be colonization or decolonization, at another, the influence of cultural fusion and creolization, perhaps another the blatant influence of political or economic policy, and still another - the influence of continued cultural colonization that comes from the writers and readers of journals such as this or from a culture's access to media broadcasting the day's variation of reality.

Regardless, it seems clear that centuries of doctrines of exclusion and discussion of human expression by what distinguishes culture groups fortified by nomenclatures of race and national origin must be compensated by an intense investigation into the reality of (whatever terms we choose) fusion, exchange, or creolization as the dominant dynamic of human expression. Though seemingly fixed cultures or ethnicities (especially parts of Europe and Asia)- may be characterized by a comparatively slower dynamic of creolization, in comparison to the more violent fusions of the diasporas, only when for example, the "classical music" of European ancestry is examined by the influence of the nomadic Gypsy or Jewish communities, or by the contributions of Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures into their respective fusions, can we hope to get a more accurate picture of the dynamics of human reality. This entire change in paradigm, that is, seeking to understand the multiple dynamics of globalization, hybridization, and creolization not just now - but historically, begs the question: when have we NOT been multi-cultural? Or more appropriately, when has looking at the manner by which we are multi-cultural -- not been the most significant of perspectives from which to glean a vision of our collective reality?

To backtrack slightly, we know that the process of cultural and ethnic exchange within and between cultures occurs via unconscious assimilation and the establishment of conscious strategies. [5] Observation of the relative depth or rate of exchange or corresponding value placed upon the mixing of ideas, beliefs, and expressions within a culture affects therefore, the degree to which the culture acknowledges its kreolité or its process of creolization . In cultures where there is considerable ethnic diversity involved in numerous exchanges (flux) over time, observation of the process of cultural exchange over time may be defined as the culture's unique creole continuum (Abraham, 1980) or, in this study, its creolization process.

In the Seychelles, the case for observing the manifestation of the Seychellois conscious mindset of creolization over any semblance of identification strategy by racial or cultural origin, is fortified by the relative isolation of the culture both geographically and, in the earlier phases of its evolution, culturally -- from the polarizing dynamics of slavery or the depth of political and economic control by the European colonizer. Owing also to the relative un-importance of the culture in the scheme of the Empire and the relative isolation from the intensity of inter-European competition which continually reinforced the myths of racial or national stratification as the primary means of self-identity acquisition, inhabitants of the Seychelles islands were thrown earlier and arguably more intensely into a search for identity that would accommodate, not exclude the diversity of their origin.

The search for re-identification against the backdrop of the technology that puts us continually in contact with each other, is what draws the inquisitive mind perpetually back to the well of de-categorization. Now the pendulum of cultural discourse, which has moved from one version of "centrism" to another, begins to search for the middle point.

"Negritude replaced the illusion of Europe by an African illusion. Initially motivated by the wish of embedding us into the actuality of our being, Negritude soon manifested itself in many kinds of exteriority: the exteriority of aspirations (to mother Africa, mythical Africa) and the exteriority of self assertion (we are Africans). It was a necessary dialectical moment, an indispensable development. But it remains a great challenge to step out of it in order to finally build a new yet temporary synthesis on the open path of history.... our history..... interior vision is a result of self-acceptance. (Haitian scholars: Bernabé, Chamoiseau, Confiant, 1990: 889-890)

Where the principle of cultural "creativity" weighs into the discussion of cultural hybridization and fusion, is in the implication of perpetual change based upon ever-changing and modulating strategies. Understanding the perpetual nature of human creativity and the modulating strategies upon which a single race of people (the human race) is constantly striving to upgrade their respectability, physical, spiritual and intellectual well-being, and ultimately find or exalt their cultural "uniqueness" amongst their peers, however difficult it may be to measure, seems essential to the understanding of the nature of human exchange itself.

So, with only a few pages left, allow me to represent the multiplicity of truths generated by commentary from Seychellois musicians and culture bearers into a few categories of simultaneously existing strategies within the Seychelles creolization process. Through the comments of these musicians and scholars I sincerely hope that the reader will feel as I did, the "self acceptance" and "interior vision" of the Seychellois as varied, flexible, ever in flux, and demanding of a modulation in the discipline of discourse from a search for truth, to the discussion of a multiplicity of processes . . . as truth. I leave any most interpretation exclusively up to the reader (excepting for brief footnotes and comments as will enhance the readers understanding of genres). I sincerely hope that you will enjoy the "creole" mindset as have I.

 

 

Lessons from the "creole" mindset

 

Creole principle #1: To accept change and exchange across generations and culture groups is the natural dynamic and greater tradition of life itself.

" Now lets not forget that there are many cultures that share quite similar experiences (to those here in Seychelles). Even if they are on the other side of the world, like in the Caribbean, we share similar life styles, same patterns of history, different races which have been brought together, eventually we share the same mode of music. I think there is some more or less unifying affinities for Creole cultures. "(Interview: Leon Radegonde, painter and educator, 1994)

Note: Affinity for Caribbean music may have begun as early as the 1960's (Harry Belafonte), but has intensified over time. First - French-derived creole cultures and music (Zouk from Martinique's "Kassav"), shortly after Reggae from both Africa and Jamaica - but at present everything from Salsa, Merenque, to Calypso and Cumbia has found its way both to the island airways --- and the musicians creolization processes.

"There had been a lot of communication between Mauritians and Seychellois. They met, they stayed together, many were legal inhabitants of the other island. Whites and mixed-race Mauritians called themselves Creoles... in Seychelles, everyone calls themselves Creoles. That's an important difference. Including Maharati or Ghudrati origins may be distinguished in Mauritius, but not in Seychelles. There are some Indians, and the names aren't important that are business merchants. They've managed to isolate or stay to themselves for 100 years or so. They kept to themselves for a long time... but now the youth of these families, perhaps the third generation or more, now consider themselves Creoles, marry other Seychellois. You can try to stay alone for awhile... then something will compel you to change.

A saying in Seychelles goes: "Si ou en etranze ou vin Sesel, ou konmans fer lakot en pti fiy Seselwa ou etranze pou fini ou pou vin Seselwa". The translation is: " if you (a foreigner) starts to get a Seychellois girlfriend, in a short time (this is compared to the breadfruit), that if you eat the breadfruit you will come back to the Seychelles or be a Seychellois yourself. This is true ." (Interview: Jerry Souris, music instructor,1997)

Note: The adaptability of the Seychellois creole not only asserts itself on the foreign settler to the Seychelles (frequently over generations), but is distinctly evident in the ease by which Seychellois generally adapt to outside cultures and linguistic/cultural alternatives. As witnessed elsewhere (i.e. in Europe amongst the Dutch or Luxembourg's) the greater the historical basis for creolization in a culture's past, (mélange of cultural influences, languages, etc) the greater the force applied to adaptation, modulation, and creolization. Cultural patterns such as this generally produce an increased affinity towards cultural fusion and adaptation or towards acculturation of other creole influences.

"You ask how the integration occurred in Seychelles? Its because of our size and the smallness of our numbers. It doesn't allow for numerous groups or for people to isolate themselves from each other. What's the point for an Indian or Chinese to isolate himself if he's the only one. Some say this submerges our cultural identity in those of the "other," we say this is our cultural identity." (Interview: Mme. Flavie Jackson, Ministry of Culture, Seychelles, 1994)

"It is very difficult to know the meaning of each and every word uttered by the artists. As you can realize from the comments of "Ton-Pa" he himself picked up a few of these from "bonn zye bennomm" (old folksingers). For example from Sidoni, "angeleza" (see below), according to him means crying in Malagasy. The word has not been found in a Malagasy or French dictionary (apart from angèl). The word could be an old one or, from another region of the island. I personally believe myself that they might have added or "malaganized" -- "gele" (to cry) making it "angeleza"! Still even more often, the words are difficult to pick up with the ears....(so we assume both the word and its meaning)....but this too is all part of the creolization process. Rest assured I've tried to translate in context....but I suppose that too is "my" context." (Interview, Jean-Claude Mahoune, National Heritage administrator/ anthropologist, 1994)

Note: "Ton-Pa" is one of the last bearers of the older song traditions which use the "bombe" (berimbau-like - 1-string bow instrument) to tell stories from the past. He is still frequently quoted and used as reference by younger musicians as a means of drawing connection to parents, grandparents, or in tying music across generations.

"These adaptations and variations which occurred over the years were transmitted through oral traditions. Today the modern media, (radio, television, cassettes, CD's etc.) speed up and facilitate the process for those who like to "draw" from the spring of traditional compositions. Each era has its own creations and borrows from previous ones. How much of this occurs? Do our artists become less creative by doing so or are they following the trend in most ex-colonized countries? Would that trend be short-lived or gather more momentum in the future? Those questions remain all to be answered. " (Interview: Mahoune, 1994)

Note: Until only the last decade, Seychelles had but one radio station. This station would constantly revolve between older traditions and newer traditions, music from the outside and music from within. What is striking to the ethnomusicologist, in analyzing the expressions of any stage of the continuum of creolization, unlike in larger cultures where you could not say you know exactly what may have influenced the creation of some new expression - in the Seychelles the process and dynamics of musical creolization were fascinatingly clear. The island now has multiple stations and television programming as well, so as in most cultures, the multiplicity of stimuli increase the speed and dimensions of creolization.

"You ask my feelings about the traditional music... well, I believe it is the music for the future. The music has not gotten out yet... for the musicians, people, producers to try and look at and understand tradition differently. Perhaps it is something that I would put with an African rhythm or a rhythm I've invented myself... or use "traditional" instruments but in my own way... then maybe that becomes a tradition." (Interview: Jimy Savi, employee: Kreol Institute/band leader, July, 1994)

"You asked for comments. I have to admit that kamtole and contredanse are somewhat complicated for the novice (non-dancer), and my research was never concentrated on the dances considered to be of "European origin." However, today I am starting to rethink and reassess my research notes and am coming to the conclusion that though Kamtole was of European origin -- it was played, danced, and re-created by Creole-Africans and have become therefore, as creole as jazz, blues, and other musical genres of your (American ) culture." (Letter: Mahoune, 10/95)

Note: We know that each colonizer brought the "status of their own creolization" with all of its frills (music and dances) to the location wherein the new creolization process would begin. Thus, the folk dances of the French and English (in the case of any culture colonized by either - and for the Seychelles - both!) of the 18 th and 19 th centuries (kamtole: a body of dances including the waltz, polka, Scottish, "jazz," and the contredanse or country dances which included the commandeur or caller) were the initial contributions of European cultures to Seychelles creolization. However, as Mahoune describes, the metamorphosis of all genres demands that the cultural identity of genre origin be given over to the dynamics of creolization.

"Well kamtole is the umbrella of a series of tunes. You have polka, mazuk waltz, kotis, and then we come to the other sequence which is Contredanse.... this is another sequence. But we can be free to create or own music and lyrics on this.....I just re-write my lyrics... but when we play that, the older people can dance it as they used to dance before: (demonstrates 'older' tradition steps) 1,2, 1,2, and they can turn 1,2 and they can turn 1,2... always like that, and today we can dance our own version (demonstrates modern variation) 1,2, keep the steps there, but create our own version." (Interview: K.Valentin, dancer/musician, 1999)

"I was in an open University forum (for the Indian Ocean region). There was a large workshop on cultural research. I had to present something on the tradition of Seychellois dances. You see, since there was one person from each Country... I was from Seychelles, others from Madagascar and so on. Time did not permit us to dig extensively through the archives, so each of us spoke from what we could remember After listening to the presentations from all the different individuals I said: "Well.. there really are common-nesses -- if I can create a word. The differences are how they evolved in space and time - the sense is still there. Even in the organization side of things there is a creolization. Which is a change even in all these implications. I think that adds to all this creolization. I think that this stage was a turning point in the evolution of methodologies. The thing itself... that is creolization through music, should be the same for all of us. Each of us give our input on how we see the process taking place -- rather than arguing or defending definitions. You could, for instance talk about creolization by periods... say 1810 to whatever... what were the major processes or changes in each period? In any case, for us Seychellois, you have to always refer to mutia... by reference to its growth. (Marcel Rosalie, Administrator, Seychelles National Archives, Interview: 1994)

 

 

Creole principle #2: Racism and colonization are two distinct yet frequently interwoven forces of cultural exclusion. Colonization, however, (especially that of Western education and media) is the greater of forces in both preserving the antiquated hierarchy of cultural preference, individualism, the forces of capitalism and ownership, while increasing the options from which a vibrant creole society can choose its vocabulary and strategies of identity.

"Well I'll say this quickly, because maybe I too have been a part of this. Back in 19-- we had a very good band called "--------". I was the lead player. I think personally it was a very good band. But the problem is... I don't know where this comes from... everybody wants to be seen or heard as individuals.. they all want to be the star. Everyone wants to be in the "limelight." It didn't use to be this way - but now with movies and T.V., I don't know, it seems like no one is content to be themselves." (Seychelles musician, Interview, 1994)

"There is definitely a problem ... though I'd never want to offend my friends. But I've seen this spirit of jealousy which overrides completely any spirit of potential cooperation. Which means there is likely not going to be any chance of these guys (the better musicians on the island) coming together under any circumstances. Perhaps if they were offered a million dollars a year they would come together... but that would be it. The problem is once a group is famous here... and they play the hotels... once someone feels he has enough exposure, or money... he wants to go solo... actually I want that too. Its hard to be content with just being a group in the Seychelles, I have this dream of others, maybe in England, France, knowing how good we are too." (Seychelles, musician, Interview, 1994)

Note: the dual influences of "islandness" (the impact of geographic isolation) and media, "star-power" and the circumambulating perception that one's uniqueness and value is not fully recognized . . . a comparative vision to the broadcasting of the predominant Western voice impacts all cultures. A marked escalation in the erosion of group and community identity has seriously compromised efforts to create and sustain musical collectives.

" Well... the kind of life the Seychellois is living is becoming more and more like the European life. We have the influence from Europe in everything. You know we are a small island. We didn't use to have television - that's only very recent. We have inherited much of our culture and a tendency to take on new influences. I think, this is the case. Everything that is developed new... we feel like we have to get that... have that... I think this is the problem. I think we get influenced by all these things and not always in good ways." (Seychelles musician, Jean-Marc Volsy, Interview:1999)

Note: Only in the late nineteen-eighties, did the Seychelles join most of the world in the consumption and projection of cultural images vis-à-vis television. The marked influence of Western media (imported programs from America and Europe) with all its positives and negatives has had a most notable influence on the musicians. So much of the locally produced programs involve musicians creating videos that have increasingly mirrored those produced in America and Europe. The impact and emphasis of individualism over a sense of community has been overnight and extensive. In time, however, the expertise of Seychellois musicians and media producers has grown to rival that of the West (in emulating smoothness, flashiness, tightly timed and produced programming). A surprising impact - is that an increase in attention to Seychelles music and musicians amongst the Seychelles population has also occurred.

 

An interview with Emmanuel Marie, recognized as one of the premier entertainers of Seychelles. It demonstrates the dichotomy of globalization, creolization, and the preservation identity. It also magnifies the possibility that identity can be kreolité or a strong affinity for creolization:

 

Question: Since you started playing professionally how have things changed? What are your observations and memories?

E. Marie: "Well... I found out also that it was not only me that was influenced by this music (Western pop music). Other musicians were also playing like them. You found out that the sega was just an A, a D and a C (chords). Now when that Western music, with the tourists influence, everything coming here, you start seeing new chord progressions in the traditional music. You are listening to a "licks" ... a rock lick into a sega. For me, this was a big change. But the problem was .. a lot of our elders didn't like this very much. They'd say: "Ay play the real vals, and polka etc."

I started by myself with just a guitar. Finally, I played in bands... but what I gained from those bands was the knowledge of how to perform, what kind of music the hotel wants, and everytime... the international music came in... I thought: "well if they don't like the Seychelles music as it is... I will use most of the International music but play.. in Kreol. That's where "Santer oubliye" came from. That's the "Mwa Wilison " (a remake of the elder "Ton-Pa's" more traditional version) The beat is a fusion of the traditional beat plus outside beats. The sound is also very Western. That was three years ago.

I consciously decided I would mix or fuse the traditional with the modern. This is what I wanted to do. I also decided I wanted to be an overall "entertainer." But also when I play my music... I want it to be really fusioned. Put really modern equipment, or try to get modern equipment to sound like traditional equipment. That's why I went into this.. because I believe you should give the countrymen what they want."

Question: Some people feel that Seychellois are becoming so adept at "learning" or "taking" from other cultures that they are forgetting their traditions. What do you think about this?

E. Marie: " I don't look at it that way. Maybe I look at it as ... well, my "ace in the hole." My sega is my ace in the hole. For me I say... I can do that... its true the Seychellois can go anywhere and play all types of music.. but we also have our own music. They say: "hey you play reggae .. but do you also have your own music?" We say: "Yes we have it." We can really play the traditional form or the modernized one. This is part of our culture. You don't really find a "sega band." Maybe you'll find a real traditional band... a kamtolé band... strictly this. But you go and find an all electric band, there is hardly anyone who only plays sega. Its already engrained in our culture now... we play all kinds. Of course, our sega is always there. We should never miss the sega in the night. We have to play this. This is creolization. This is the start of the Seychelles. We have to accept it. I think its not really important where all these come from ... but its certain that they are fused. Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I really don't care if we did this or that... we like an amalgamation of everything put together. I like this.. I find myself happy.. I don't care, I'll take two bits and put it together... (laughs)"

" I was just reading a North American book, which discussed the fact that so much of music and dance are discussed separately. For instance the ballet and opera were discussed as if they had nothing in common. Its a challenge to discuss the music and dance together... but shouldn't they be? Oh but we now have a conservatory of music and a separate one for dance --- I'm not sure even we know how this happened. It doesn't seem to fit us, or? (Interview: Mahoune, 1997)

Note: At its worse, an individual in any culture will be influenced to completely accept or absorb another culture over one's own as a strategy for self-elevation and attainment of an externalized vision of self-respect. Although it may appear that this is more an issue of individual self-esteem and integrity than issues related to cultural colonization --- the voice of the colonizer (in this case American and European media) is strong indeed.

Question: What kinds of topics did you write your songs about? Did you write about love, or what happened during the day... what inspired you?

D. Williams : Most of songs I sing about are of love. I tell you frankly, I prefer to sing country and western songs. Frankly, I sing better English than Kreol. I have a voice for it. But I sing sega... but my voice is not for it.

Question: Why do you think that is? What is the connection between American country and western and the Seychelles Islands... here in the middle of the Indian Ocean?

D. Williams : Because country and western is something that you can relax to. You can imagine the past.

The good singers came from America. Most of the Seychellois from age 30 on like country and western because they are good songs.

"You know young Seychellois are really doing some great things. I think that Seychelles is not really a "third world country" or undeveloped country. It's more developed than most of the developed countries in a lot of aspects culturally.

A lot of people have never been out of the country. A lot of people have never traveled before. With T.V. you don't always see the whole picture. In America, you don't see the crime in New York or Washington, or the destruction of the family; they show you the hunger of Somalia or the Americans helping the Somalians out... but not the beauty of the Somalians; We see the glamour of Hollywood and London... but what else is there? What is the other part?

You see, We really need to bring back realistic 'slices' of these cultures back to show the Seychellois. It will greatly help us. It will open more doors for the Seychellois... and for others to see us. I can not even have the highest degree here-- which at present is not at all like Oxford or Cambridge.. but still be educated to an even higher degree than anyone in either place. We have many people who see clearly how culture moves...I don't see why we can't do it! (Interview: J. Savi, 1994)

 

 

Creole principle #3 : The fully accepting "creole" mind, refuses to believe or adher to strategies of inferiority or ethnic/racial identity by the Western tradition. It prefers to see itself as a model of globalization and humanity's future.

"Well... what I can say, when you live on a small island, the way of living is very different from people living on continents. Eventually, you develop your own way of seeing things. And many of these islands are made up of people who come from various parts of the world, they have been put together and they have to forge their own ways of life, away from the main land. Obviously, they bring the influences from their country of origin, which is referred in Creole as "metisage." That's when people of different races mix together and create a 'whole from the parts'. If I am not mistaken, the term originally meant to be a mixture of East Indian and European, but its meaning is now broader. I think in many ways, this is a broader vision of our planet - don't you think?" (Leon Radegonde, Artist and educator, Interview: Seychelles, 1997)

"I personally believe that we can teach the rest of the world many things. Like I say, I have traveled a little bit. What we have here in fact, is something that we've inherited, in the sense that everyone here in Seychelles can belong to any society in the world. If you dump me in India I'll be fine, put me in the North Pole I'll be fine, put me in the heart of Africa I'll be alright, and every Seychellois has the ability to adapt very, very well in any kind of situation, and this is very positive and to our advantage. This will help us to be a model to the rest of the world.

I mean in every culture there are a lot of things that are good, and a lot of things, which are not so good. What I would like, I mean one of my dreams here in Seychelles is to be able, as far as music is concerned, is to make everyone to understand, I'm talking to musicians, to artists, to a lay person, to the president or minister... is that we have the ability to do a lot of things... and we also have the ability to create a lot of things, many of which are not exactly taken uniquely from Europe or from North America.

As teachers, we must be open. We are the ones who must create that environment, that climate. If we just stay here, and think that no one can touch us, or this is what we do, and if you don't do it our way then you're out of it... then this is a very bad attitude. This is one thing which we hope we will not lose. It gives me pleasure when you tell me that many people have told you that they are comfortable with me. I feel good anywhere... this is what I want people to learn from and appreciate. Hopefully this will shine as an example to the rest of the world. " (David André, musician and educator, Interview: 1999)

Note: "That the problems raised by these multi-cultural realities have dimensions of an order of complexity far beyond our contemporary experience should but encourage us to marshal all our scientific skills to their solution. The answer, when it comes, must be realistic and flexible. Above all, it must involve an orientation in thought that, by giving full weight to the cross-cultural factor, will grant to all peoples their right of choice to identify their future with the continuities of their ancestral heritage." (M.J. Herskovits, 1972: 74)

 

That many Seychellois (and those of other islands or non-Western cultures) are neither intimidated nor completely infatuated by Western cultures, provides the fodder for the development of antidotes to many of the imbalances which plague Western culture and bind Western scholarship to outmoded paradigms. Flexibility based upon the visions and strategies determined by the peoples of these cultures, when implemented into the heart of Western academia, will greatly influence de-colonization in our own methodologies and ultimately produce far more sensitive and relevant artifacts as well.

"Then (earlier), both the sega and the mutia were danced outside in the open. Then came the sega salon... which is a change in, I wouldn't say the concept of music, but the organization of it. It is a more organized, less spontaneous creation. You'll find a team, a band who play together, so they kept to the lyrics. At this stage, the question of spontaneous creation was bit lost.

Even in the organization side of things there is creolization. Which is a change in implications (context). I think that adds to all this creolization. I think that this stage was a turning point in the evolution of methodologies. The thing itself. . . that is creolization through music, should be the same for all of us. You must always refer to mutia and sega by reference to its growth and re-organization. I think this is what makes the evolution of the Sega so fascinating to outsiders as well --- and this may be true of much of our culture, is the clarity of the process of creolization, you know, the clear vision of what contributed to the modulation." (M.Rosalie, Interview: 1994 )

Note: Mutia is a circle dance, believed to have been imported from Eastern Africa or through creolization of a similar genre in Mauritius. The Sega is the most popular dance genre of the Seychelles. It has had numerous shifts in emphasis, but is seen by most musicians as a fusion of both the Mutia and Kotis Anglisan (part of the Kamtolé repertoire of fusion dances from France and England).

"It seems that early on in the 70's and 80's we didn't think about sega or our own music. At that time we were more concerned with the music that was coming from Europe, especially with International television coming to Seychelles. Everybody was trying to copy the European styles of music, and sometimes later the Caribbean style: like the zouk. But recently, 3 or 4 years ago (1990) it seems that the young Seychellois are going back to our own music, you know... trying to develop our own music.

They started to do research back into our own music and lyrics, and started to rearrange in modern style. That's why Jean-Marc Volsy won the prize for the Radio France International "Decouverte." He looked back at the music... and pushed it up in time . (Jimmy Savi, Interview: 1997)

Note: The following comments are from a series of interviews with Patrick Victor, the first Seychellois to make an impact internationally, and one of the continued forces in the creation and production of performing arts work (musical theater as well as staged music) which challenges popular music structures.

"I believe in this-- I'm part of humanity so you're part of me... I'm part of you. If you can do wrong, I can do wrong! Its humanity. When I see something good happens to you... it happens to me. I'm part of humanity. That's the way I see things. You cut this thing from me.... you're cutting from you. You ban me from saying it now... it will be said by another one, at another time... part of me, part of you.

[Sings:]Translation only :

How powerful you think you are in front of death (over death)

How many prophets ... how many kings... have disappeared through their message?

How many crowns.. how many bouquets of flowers have been set upon their graves?

The land is being disintegrated...

the body (and soul) is saddened...

but yet they tie their own hands

prejudice everywhere is controlling justice

Anyway I remember saying: "Ok guys lets go back to our roots"... but our roots were changing. I tried to organize these things... and I started hating myself. Why should I try to organize these things? On one hand I said let it be. But on the other, I realized it was not just organizing, but encouraging people to love their culture, themselves, their kreolité. People went to the brush and got the mutia drum, and brushed off the dust. But they had forgotten how to make the drums. I'm sure now, I make the drums a different way.

We had lost valuable time criticizing, being jealous or scared of one another, working our muscles and emotions in that direction, leaving little strength to reach out to where the real source of the music was. Music is one with the people. Creativity is from the real source. It's there, we have to reach. Everyone of us who has been privileged to have a beautiful tune to come from his or her mouth, had its source from somewhere else. It's not for his/her self.

Now when I look back at that time, I think I was running or competing against myself. Sometimes you see guys running against each other. But this is not perfection. For me, being more in tune with the finer things within, everyday, every minute, was more important. For a while, when we were touring France, and we had done so many things... I realized that many among us, deep down would rather not live this way. I must confess for a long while I thought that my musicians were mad. They really wanted to go back to Seychelles and just 'burn-out' on the island.

I recall a line from a song: "In my mind there will be firecrackers"

Dan Leglise...(in the church) well it is for us, I don't know if its the same for you, the bells begin ringing (sings one bell) then another starts (sings higher), than bells, high notes, lots of notes, bells everywhere. You can imagine this sort of thing going in your psychic. This is Kreolité... this was the inspiration for the group at the time, an attempt to resolve the contradiction from without, one that lived as well within." (Patrick Victor, musican / dramatic visionary, Interview: 1997)

"We have a community of artists from a variety of origins. Some are self taught. Some are trained in Europe or China. Some have lived only here, some are ex-patriots. Many of these artists have to make a living... and must commercialize their works... others don't care at all about the money. All these things are working at the same time.

I think art in the future will find its place automatically. It will be something that is bound to grow and flourish as the country develops naturally. Art will keep abreast with the rate of change within the country. Certainly now people are more exposed to art, there will be a generation of people who have been exposed to art training, there are expositions now. There will be a generation of people soon who will be more aware. Things will fall into place I think. Of course there is also art in the fashion industry.

I think that it is true that the world is getting smaller and as a result, there will be a quicker pace of exchange... yes this is true we see it already in the music.... especially of African-Based cultures. I think this is true." (Interview: Radegon, 1994)

 

Finally - my Seychellois wife once entertained a graduate seminar at the University of Michigan. As the conversation came to a discussion of racial identity and national heritage --- tensions mounted as each partial truth vied in competition with another. Eurocentricity clashed with Afrocentricity. Established traditions in Western academic discourse met the potential of dissertation through modern multi-media in the arena of futility. And, finally disciplines which claimed nearly 500 years of entrenchment (the "ologies" of the University tradition) were pitted against the potential of integration, interdisciplinarity, and methodologies which might reflect the oral traditions and "alternative" visions of the non-Western world. Having heard enough, seen enough, and finally . . . having spoken little, my wife commented with the simplicity I had come to know from her mother, herself a master of intuitive wisdom:

"I am Creole and I accept this. Because you are Creole too... but you don't yet understand or accept it...you are confused with your times. "

Yes, that's it....you fight with the process of the fusions, multi-cultural, global and advanced communication your own hands have created. The myths of race created by your collective ancestors --- and the belief in "nation" which contradicts the reality of human evolution, are devoid of capacity to help you solve your dilemma. You must turn elsewhere. Perhaps we can help you...but you must be willing to listen." (Comment: Léonie (Isaac) Naylor, 1997)

 

I especially want to thank the following:

 

the Seychelles Government, the Ministries of Culture and Education and all archivists and media personnel, the Seychellois musicians, Bernard Koechlin (and Radio France Internationale), and all others quoted or discussed in the text, and especially Léonie and her beloved family for their continued influence on my perceptions --- and for the constant motivation to challenge and alter my own subterranean indoctrinations in seeking to understand our world by the outmoded and grossly inadequate search for origins by racial and national identifiers.

 

 

Notes

 

[1] Pronounced: English: "say - shells" or Creole: "Sey - sell"

[2] Tradition -from traditio or traditionis - "a delivery or surrender of something to someone or something else"

[3] To understand the phenomenon of assigning ethnicity in a racially polarized society to the extent that the assignments obscure the reality of the expressions themselves would be a thesis in itself. Superficially, however, we can say that the pendulum of justice in any society polarized by hierarchical racial/cultural perception and centuries of injustice frequently flows from one form of 'centrism" to other (Euro - to Afro) before finally settling in a place that recognizes multiple truths.

[4] See the works of Marion Benedict, J.T. Bradley, and especially Guy Lionnet.

[5] The initial formulation of my work in creolization owes extensive gratitude to the field of "creolization" studies in linguistics with special note of Suzanne romaine, Ian Hancock, and especially Talmy Gívon and works all scholars from Haiti, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

 

 

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Interviews:

Other sources from Seychelles Research.

And especially all of the interviews with Seychellois scholars, musicians, National Heritage personnel (1989, 1994, 1997, 1999), Jacob Marie (Ton-Pa), Patrick Pillay (Director Seychelles National Radio and T.V.), Patrick Victor ( Local Musican/former director of National Troupe), Michelle Marie (Radio Seychelles), Frank Isaac/Renald Isaac (Brothers in Law), Bennett Acouche (local musician, trained in Switerland), Jerry Souris (local musician, trained in France), Michel Rosalie (Assist Dir. Research/Ntl Heritage -- see notes), David Andre (Director, Musique Conservatoire de Seychelles-- see also "Folk Music of the Seychelles" transcriptions for guitar and other instruments), Jean Claude Mahoune, Norbert Solomon, Michel Rosalie, Léon Radegonde, David André, Kevin Valentin, Emmanuel Marie, Stanley Beaufond, Despilley Williams, Members of the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Tourism, Jean Marc Volsy, Patrick Victor, Jimi Savy --- and many more.

 

Heeding the Creole Voice (in the Seychelles Islands): Alternatives to race and nation as identifiers of cultural value was realized with culture reading by Léonie E. Naylor, M.A., M.S.

 
 
 

Michael L. Naylor, Ph.D. (ethnomusicology), M.M. (film and media composition) is currently Music Studies Director at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan (U.S.) and adjunct faculty at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan. He is also the program director for the Center for Cultural Healing, a non-profit institute designed to create multi-culturally balanced educational materials through extensive use of the arts and media.

As a composer and musician, Dr. Naylor has performed with numerous musicians including Frank Sinatra, Julio Iglesias, Celia Cruz, and the Jon Secada. He has also toured or performed in numerous countries in Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa. He has recently completed a textbook: Exploring the Creativity in Culture . . . through the world of music which treats the world of musical expression equally and utilizes the perspectives and comments of the musicians from around the world, to help the reader glean incite into each work represented.

   
 

 

Maerlant Center Institute for Cultural Studies

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